Comparatives and Superlatives

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What are they?

Both comparatives and superlatives are types of adjectives used to form a comparison. They are useful tools for establishing how many things you are comparing when it is unclear in the context of the sentence as well. See below for the differences between the two.

Comparatives

If you are comparing two things, comparatives are used. In most cases, they are created by adding “-er” to the end of an adjective (brave, braver). As the comparison tools of two things, these are usually accompanied by “than” or “but” within sentences.

Superlatives

Superlatives are used when you are comparing more than two things. These are usually created by adding “-est” (brave, bravest) to the end of an adjective. The word “the” almost always precedes superlatives because they are describing something unique among the things in the comparison.

Rules for forming them

There are rules that dictate how these special adjectives are formed and some exceptions to the general rules. Each comparative and superlative is formed based on the number of syllables and the letters used at the end of the adjective off which they are created. Think of syllables as the sections within words as you pronounce them. “Sad” for example has one syllable, but “happy” has two (hap-py).

One syllable forms

Example: original adjective ends in “e” – comparatives receive “er,” superlatives receive “est”

  • She was cute (adjective).
  • She was cuter than Mary (comparative).
  • She was the cutest girl on the team (superlative).

Example: original adjective ends with one vowel and one consonant – consonant is doubled before adding “er” or “est”

  • It was hot standing in the sun (adjective).
  • It was hotter standing in the sun than in the shade (comparative).
  • It was the hottest standing on the blacktop (superlative).

Example: original adjective ends with more than one vowel or more than one consonant at the end – uses “er” for comparative and “est” for superlative

  • She was neat. He was fast (adjective).
  • She was neater, but he was faster (comparative).
  • She was the neatest in the class, and he was the fastest (superlative).

Two syllables

Example: ending in “y” – the “y” changes to an “i” before the “er” for comparative or “est” for superlative is added

  • Her daughter is happy (adjective).
  • Her daughter is happier than her sister (comparative).
  • Her daughter is the happiest of the three children (superlative).

Example: not ending in “y” – “more” is added before the comparative and “most” before the superlative

  • The room is modern (adjective).
  • The room is more modern than the others (comparative).
  • The room is the most modern one in the house (superlative).

Three or more syllables

All adjectives that have three or more syllables follow the same rule as two-syllable ones that do not end in “y.”

  • The test is difficult (adjective).
  • The test is more difficult than the last (comparative).
  • The test is the most difficult one of the semester (superlative).

Irregular adjectives

Some adjectives take an irregular form of both comparatives and superlatives, and these do not follow the general rules that apply to most others. The following are irregular adjectives followed by the comparatives and superlatives.

  • good (adjective), better (comparative), best (superlative)
  • bad, worse, worst
  • far, farther, farthest
  • little, less, least
  • many, more, most

Irregular adjective example:

  • She has many pencils (irregular adjective).
  • She has more pencils than you (comparative).
  • She has the most pencils of anyone in the class (superlative).